Family of Flying
Oh the joy! I got to fly a helicopter for my Birthday :)) out of Camarillo Airport — not far from my native Malibu.
And a visit to the WWII Air Museum there prompted a memory I hadn’t thought of in years.
Is it possible? Could it be?
Outside the Museum hanger, parked on the tarmac, was a solitary white homebuilt aircraft. Perched there, awkward — looking sort of like a dolphin out of the sea.
Sharply pointed winglets.
Canard off the fuselage.
Pushed by a rear propeller.
A Burt Rutan VariEze experimental design.
Our tour guide described it as “Vintage.”
“In fact, it’s for sale,” he announced.
Is this one of the planes flown by Charlie, Joe and Mack, back in the late 80s? Over my Malibu home?
The memories flood my mind.
Suddenly I’m there again . . .
Here’s the memoir of these long-ago events, written in my Journal, a few years back.
Charlie, Joe and Mack — Malibu, 1980s
They used to fly over us
At the Yerba Buena house,
High up in the saddle of
Malibu’s Boney Ridge.
Three identical aircraft —
Angular upswept wingtips,
Canard off the fuselage —
Homebuilt VariEze crafts.
I would hear their engines’ familiar
Buzz and stop whatever I’d be doing —
Race outside, drag out the kids,
Point and make a fuss . . .
Photo Credit: Wikipedia: By Stephen Kearney (Personal collection.)
I used to stand there, waving wildly,
Shouting out their newly assigned names —
“Hey Charlie! Joe! Mack!
How’s it going up there?”
“Beautiful day for flying!
What airport are you guys out of?
Camarillo? Oxnard? Santa Paula?
Where are you flying to today?”
My little kids thought it was great —
Certain that I knew them;
Happy to greet Mommy’s
Three ace flying friends.
Flashback — My Family Flying Roots
Suddenly I return to my flying roots —
No longer a new mom raising my daughters,
My horses, up a canyon in Malibu,
Strapped firmly to the earth.
Suddenly I’m there with my Dad —
I’m maybe twelve years old —
In the cockpit of his beloved
Beechcraft Bonanza . . .
My Dad, bigger than life —
Top Studio Musician,
Twentieth Century Fox
Orchestra by day —
Disneyland Bandleader by night.
(Hired by Walt Disney, himself.)
Commuting nightly in his own private plane —
While others sit stuck in traffic below.
“My Dad works at Disneyland!!!
I’ve been to the Park dozens of times —
And we fly there in my Dad’s airplane . . . “
(No wonder the kids at school didn’t believe!)
To find out more about Dad and his music, go to my post, You Can Do ANYTHING!
And Dad’s love of flying came from
Grandfather, 1918, U.S. Army Air Service.
I can still see the framed black and
White photos hanging in the hallway
With Grandfather smiling proudly in a WWI-era biplane,
Wearing the very same leather flight helmet he left to me
(Along with his log books — fifty hours of meticulously
Documented flight: straight, level, spins, stalls . . . )
Today, it’s just Dad and me, no older sisters or
Younger brother to share Dad’s love. We take off
From Oxnard, en route to Santa Monica —
Flying toward this same range of Malibu mountains.
I look down below at the magical shrunken
World that always happens flying with Dad —
A bird’s eye view that reveals little cars and houses,
Swimming pools and fences.
Roads and trails — straight and twisted.
Green cultivated fields, curving rows of orchards,
And tiny bushy trees like those along the miniature train tracks
At the Lionel Model Railroad store near Grandfather’s house.
Then today, Dad hands me the controls and lets me fly.
“Hold it steady,” Dad instructs. Oh my gosh, I get to fly!
Looking out, it all seems different — I’m flying, the plane —
And doing a darn good job!
Suddenly, the plane begins to buffet. Shake.
Oh no, what have I done? Rattle! Shimmy! Skip!
Dad quietly flips the controls back to his side of the cockpit —
We’ve hit the mountain’s turbulent, unstable air.
Dad chuckles and reassures me with that
Wonderful big laugh he always gives to Life —
Until his heart gave out, when I was sixteen,
And we buried him.
When Mom, in her shock, sold his saxophones
And his clarinets — sold his beloved Bonanza plane.
Sold the house, moved from Malibu —
And Dad and flight were lost . . .
Until I decided, a decade later, that
I could learn to fly, I would learn —
Like my Father and Grandfather
Before me — Palomar Airport.
I worked hard. Got my fixed-wing license in just three months.
Moved to San Luis Obispo — and for the next two years, rented planes and
Flew nearly 300 California hours in Cessnas, Warriors, Tomahawks,
From San Luis, to Van Nuys, to San Diego . . .
Soaring like an Eagle — like a California Condor —
Looking down on emerald ocean inlets over Laguna,
Grassy farmlands with cattle tracks leading to
Water troughs in the Central Valley —
Sugar-coated mountains over the Grapevine,
Sprinkled with a fresh coating of snow.
Talking to the tower, checking my altimeter,
Flying my craft with precision and pride, like all pilots . . .
Joining the ranks of those before — and after me,
Daring enough to take to the sky.
Dad and Grandfather,
Charlie, and Joe, and Mack . . .
Return to Malibu, 1980s
Returning to Malibu, back to when my kids were small —
I’m out with the horses — and I hear . . .
Looking up, I see . . . Circling Sandstone Peak —
Charlie, Joe . . . wait a minute — just two planes now.
“Hey Charlie, Joe, how’s it going up there?”
I point. I wave. I cry. My kids, so little,
They don’t know — can’t know — why?
Something must have happened to Mack!
Emotions rise within me. Memories of my flying days — of
Dad and Grandfather — come racing back . . .
“Is Mack OK? Is his family doing well?”
Tears well up in my eyes.
We saw Charlie and Joe fly over a few more times — but never again with Mack.
Then we moved from the mountains, closer to the beach.
And throughout the years I’ve wondered the fate of my
VariEze, ace flying friends . . .
Island of Oahu, 2010
Now, two decades later, I listen to the roar of an
Acrobatic aircraft, practicing stunts —
Engine cranking, climbing . . . then fading, falling, spinning,
Here over Hawaii’s Lani Kai Beach.
And I think of Charlie, and Joe, and good ‘ol Mack,
And I wonder — are they still flying?
Are they soaring like an Eagle
Over the mountains somewhere?
Or are they now with Dad,
Soaring above the Rainbow —
Smiling each time an airplane flies by.
Running outside, dropping
Everything they’re doing,
Waving their hands wildly —
Welcoming the latest pilot home?
Birthday Flight, Camarillo Airport
Yes! I’ve decided, this has to be one of their unusual, VariEze planes.
All these years later. On my Birthday.
The Rainbow Circle has returned to my Life :))
Emotions rise. Again.
But this time, smiles replace tears.
Yes! I feel them!
Dad and Grandfather — Charlie, Joe and Mack — smiling down on my Happy Birthday, Camarillo-Malibu Mountains, helicopter flying endeavor.
As we rise above the tarmac, amidst the roar of the whirling blades — I think I even hear Dad’s wonderful, heart-felt laugh!
Copyright 2010, 2015
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